• Kyodo

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Pyae Lyan Aung, a goalkeeper for the Myanmar national team who received refugee status in Japan following his protest against the February military coup in his home country, has found a new home in Yokohama.

He has been offered a chance to play for Y.S.C.C. Yokohama Futsal Club, chaired by Jiro Yoshino. The futsal club is part of Y.S.C.C. Yokohama, a J. League third-division team.

“I wanted to put a smile back on the face of this young man who has lost the opportunity to play soccer,” the 56-year-old Yoshino said.

Pyae Lyan Aung came to Japan in May to take part in Myanmar’s World Cup qualifiers. During a match against Japan in Chiba on May 28, he held up three fingers, a symbol of resistance to the national army that had staged Myanmar’s military coup. He decided not return home after the game and applied for refugee status the following month.

When Yoshino heard the news, he invited Pyae Lyan Aung to join the Yokohama club as a trainee.

“As a fellow soccer player I wanted to help him out any way I can,” Yoshino said.

The goalkeeper was initially granted a “designated activities” visa in July, permitting him to stay and work in the country for six months, based on an emergency measure of the Japanese government to prevent Myanmarese residents in Japan from being deported. His visa status now allows up to five years in the country.

Yoshino started playing soccer in junior high school and joined the Yokohama club as a coach in 1986, the same year it was founded. With the club’s policy of striving for world peace through soccer, it has in the past donated equipment to children in developing countries like Vietnam, India and the Philippines. The club’s players come from a variety of countries and regions, including Nigeria, Peru and Hong Kong.

Yoshino grew up in Yokohama, a port city where diversity is considered the norm, and which became the foundation for his team.

“I wanted people to learn more about the current situation in Myanmar and the plight of refugees,” Yoshino said.

Yokohama’s Kotobukicho district is also known as area of day laborers, prompting the club’s players to host exercise programs aimed at improving the health of local residents.

“I’d like us to become much-needed members of the community,” he said.

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